How to win the battle of anxiety vs. excitement to attract new buyers

October 12, 2021

Jack Miles
Senior Research Director

This is an exciting read”. Go on, say it. Please? I know what you’re thinking. “Why is this an exciting read?” The reason is (I hope) because it’ll tell you how getting people excited reduces anxiety and can encourage them to enact new behaviours. Like buying your brand for the first time. Here’s why.

You can grow your brand by attracting new buyers to your category or getting current category buyers to buy your brand over a competitor. In both situations you’re battling the status quo bias – when people prefer that things stay as they are. Two options exist to overcome this:


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Option 1: the rational route

To get someone to make a choice that goes against the status quo is hard. The alternative to the status quo must be 2.6 times as attractive for people to choose it.

Why? Because new things are risky. And people are loss averse. This means people need an incentive to balance the risk of a loss.

To do so by dropping your price will damage your brand equity and profits. And making your brand 2.6 times as good technically is expensive and potentially impossible.

Option 2: the emotional route

Two core emotions are in play when trying to attract new category and competitor buyers:

  • Anxiety: characterised by high arousal, uncertainty and a low sense of control. Anxiety leads to loss aversion – what we’re trying to remove from a buying decision
  • Excitement: characterised by high arousal, positivity and believing upcoming events will go well. This is what we’re trying to inject into the proposition of non-status quo behaviour. If buying a new brand is an exciting prospect, people are more likely to do it

Reduce anxiety. Increase excitement. Get more people to buy your brand. Sounds easy, doesn’t it? But Alison Wood-Brooks suggests that we in fact can reappraise anxiety as excitement. Not easy. But doable.

A proposal for emotional reappraisal

Wood-Brooks says this is possible as anxiety and excitement are high arousal states. This means that by adjusting cognitive valence – how pleasant or unpleasant something is – we can reappraise anxiety as excitement.

Her research shows how to do this via 3 experiments. In these experiments participants conduct tasks associated with anxiety. These include singing in front of strangers, public speaking and a maths test. In each experiment researchers told participants to say either “I am excited” or “I am calm” out loud before starting their tasks. Researchers then relevantly measured participant’s performance levels in each task.

The results showed that when participants said “I am excited” or researchers told them to “get excited” their anxiety decreased. This then resulted in better performance.

Support for emotional reappraisal

You’d be right to ask, excited people may sing well, but do they spend money? Luckily, research by Chan Jean Lee and Eduardo Andrade has the answer.

Lee and Andrade did an experiment which split participants into 4 groups. All groups then played the same game. In this game researchers turned $10 of participant’s $15 incentive into an investment asset.

Over 25 rounds the $10 asset’s value changed. After each round participants chose whether to hold or sell their asset. The uncertainty of the next round’s valuation replicated a risky/uncertain environment.

However, each group had this game framed to them differently. 1) Stock market investment – framed with fear inducing. 2) A stock market investment. 3) An exciting casino game – framed with fear inducing. 4) An exciting casino game.

Lee and Andrade then measured how long participants played the game as a proxy for willingness to be in a risky environment. The results showed that participants in the game framed as an exciting casino game played for longer. This suggests that excitement mediates financial risk taking.

So how do we get people excited enough to buy our brand?

If reappraising anxiety as excitement is possible and excited people are more likely to take financial risks – like buying a new brand – creating excitement is a marketing opportunity. Especially as we don’t need to get people excited for long (research suggests excitement lasts for 20mins).

But how can you do this?

Promise progress in your proposition

Making small wins in life makes people feel rewarded. Teresa Ambaile’s Progress Principal reports that there’s a 76% chance feeling progress translates to a good day. This then motivates future behaviour.

Use excitement enhancing assets

Brighter and lighter colours make us feel happy and optimistic. Think how to use these within your brand’s assets/codes.


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Seduce with social proof

Social proof – where people copy other’s actions – can create a sense of excitement as people want to conform.

Scarcity bias

Scarcity bias – where people assume scare is valuable can create excitement by the desire of people having the chance to buy something others will miss out on.

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Is this cause for excitement for you?

That depends on your brand and category. Nobody got anxious about having to buy Evian instead of Volvic. Likewise, I don’t know anyone who’d get excited enough about Dr Will’s Ketchup and buy it instead of ye olde’ faithful Heinz.

But buying into some categories or brand switching is anxious. For example, getting a mortgage, writing a will or buying a new model of car. And in these instances reappraising anxiety as excitement is worth considering. And if you’re a marketer in one of these categories, that’s an exciting prospect.

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